Commanders QB options: Who could be Sam Howell’s competition for starting job?
Sam Howell stands alone in the conversation for the Washington Commanders’ starting quarterback next season — for now.
The commanders this month began telling offensive coordinator candidates what to expect. The fifth-round pick with one career start will enter the offseason program atop the depth chart, but Howell “must win” the ultimate process. For a competition to exist, another viable passer must be added. The question is who.
This is a standard query on the radio talk show circuit, social media or over text for those with the cell phone number of reporters. Speculate on specific names as needed – trade for Aaron Rodgers? Monitoring Lamar Jackson’s status? Move up for draft prospects Bryce Young or CJ Stroud? — but that approach ignores a critical element: what the other 31 teams are up to.
Trade deals can happen anytime before March 15, the start of the new league year and when free agency begins in earnest. The NFL Draft process builds to the first round on April 27. There’s no need to delay assessing the quarterback landscape.
The following exercise breaks down the league-wide QB scenarios into five categories while identifying which veterans and incoming prospects are in the mix for this high-stakes version of musical chairs. Gauging the reality and desires of other teams will provide a realistic look at Washington’s options.
Who calls plays?
Whoever the Chiefs hire to be the offensive coordinator could play a role in which experienced passer Washington targets. Different offensive systems are involved, and these coaches have relationships with potential quarterback targets.
Washington interviewed five candidates, including QB coach Ken Zampese, with more expected. The commanders are interested in Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy, according to people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing case.
From earlier this month why Eric Bieniemy to Washington made sense for him, even if it seemed like a lateral or even backward move.https://t.co/UkB6jaAvD2 https://t.co/pTcaCKjvv3
— Ben Stadig (@BenStadig) January 29, 2023
As a reminder — not that you need one — the potential sale of the franchise hangs over all football matters. Coordinator candidates and coveted quarterbacks with options may find the uncertainty of Rivera’s future beyond this upcoming season off-putting.
Rivera hasn’t had a winning season in three years, putting him on shaky ground regardless of owner. That’s why the job seems to be handed to the inexperienced Howell after something one says months before training camp but doesn’t follow through on. Regardless, Howell offers intriguing tools, and him rightfully winning the job would be great for Washington’s long-term build.
Rank the NFL offensive coordinator openings from best to worst
Passer in place (16)
Cowboys: Dak Prescott
Eagles: Jalen Hurts
Lions: Jared Goff
Vikings: Kirk Cousins
Cardinals: Kyler Murray
Aries: Matthew Stafford
Accounts: Josh Allen
Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa
Patriots: Mac Jones
Bengals: Joe Burrow
Brown: Deshaun Watson
Steelers: Kenny Pickett
Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence
Broncos: Russell Wilson
Chargers: Justin Herbert
Heads: Patrick Mahomes
There are varying levels of talent within this group, and sure, some of these fans may wish their team found an upgrade. Unlisted teams would love to trade their situation for these elite pass rushers, kids with potential or steady starters.
Arizona will need a replacement while Murray recovers from a significant knee injury, and Miami could be looking for a strong backup after Tagovailoa’s latest concussion. These are short term matters rather than investing heavily in another quarterback.
The Ravens continue to say they are committed to Lamar Jackson as their long-term QB. (Mitch Stringer / USA Today) Likely set (3)
Raven: Lamar Jackson
Bears: Justin Fields
49ers: Brock Purdy/Trey Lance
Jackson, in the midst of a protracted and secretive contract negotiation, is the biggest wild card of the offseason. There’s a world where tensions are escalating, and Baltimore is opening up the trade market. That feels like a worst-case scenario and somewhat unlikely, considering the hopeful post-playoff sentiments of coach John Harbaugh and the franchise tag option.
Fields became highlight reel fodder during his sophomore campaign with one dynamic run after another. However, Chicago has the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, with enticing quarterback prospects available.
The 49ers fall into this category only because of the original acquisition investment in Lance. Does San Francisco trade the third pick in the 2021 NFL Draft after a season-ending ankle injury, or let him compete with Purdy/rebuild his trade value?
🎙Big week on the pod. Really. ICYMI:
Senior Bowl/NFL Draft Preview with @JimNagy_SB (+ Commanders OC search update) https://t.co/3xWiix1m4z
Correcting the offense with Logan Paulsenhttps://t.co/Awe2eeBVmt
Greg Roman and Lamar Jackson w/ @jeffzrebiec https://t.co/Qf0dvufJtb
— Ben Stadig (@BenStadig) January 28, 2023
What else are they going to do? (3)
Giants: Daniel Jones
Seahawks: Geno Smith
Titans: Ryan Tannehill
Jones and Smith dramatically increased the value of their next contracts by helping their respective teams land surprising wild-card spots before entering free agency. Good chance both stay put, especially Jones, unless the price tags become astronomical. Seattle, holder of the fifth pick, could keep Smith and add its quarterback of the future in the draft.
Tennessee hoped to add just that last year, but third-round pick Malik Willis didn’t reach such heights. Whether or not the dismal performance scared Tennessee outright, it needs Tannehill or another veteran under center in 2023 as Willis develops. Tannehill, who turns 35 this summer and has a $36 million cap hit next season, is the definition of a replacement-level starter. He was also viable enough, when healthy, to help the Titans reach the playoffs three straight years before this season’s fade.
Someone in place for now (3)
Commanders: Sam Howell
Falcons: Desmond Knight
Packers: Aaron Rodgers/Jordan Love
The parallels to Green Bay’s 2008 season cannot be denied. That was when the organization finally moved on from legendary but aging quarterback Brett Favre, whose annual offseason waffle about his future held the Packers hostage. The mirroring is completed as Green Bay finally turns to promising prospect Jordan Love, who has been on the bench for three seasons after being a first-round pick.
Rodgers’ massive contract and historical imprint make it difficult to move him, but that outcome feels more likely than ever. Love would presumably take over as QB1.
Ridder threw just two touchdown passes in four starts, but the Falcons went 2-2 in those games as the third-round rookie flashed the necessary mental makeup for the position. Week 1 starter Marcus Mariota will play somewhere else in 2023.
Did Aaron Rodgers play his last snap as a Packer? (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) New places, new guys
Seven teams remain unknown in this practice: Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints, Colts, Jets, Raiders and Texans. Let’s settle it with logical guesswork involving four draft prospects, one of which ends up with a team above:
Buccaneers: Derek Carr
Panthers: Jacoby Brissett/Anthony Richardson (R)
Saints: Jimmy Garoppolo
Seahawks: Will Levis (R)
Colts: CJ Stroud (R)
Jets: Aaron Rodgers
Raiders: Tom Brady
Texans: Bryce Young (R)
It would be a crazy offseason if two of the best quarterbacks ever changed teams at the same time. The Jets naming Nathaniel Hackett their new offensive coordinator as the Rodgers rumors escalate can’t be a coincidence.
Not introducing Brady to the desert is inevitable, but there’s plenty of buzz about the seven-time Super Bowl champion reuniting with Josh McDaniels if Brady wants to keep playing at 46. Even if Brady moves on, the Bucs have enough talent to capture a weak NFC. South with a viable quarterback.
We’ll see if either team bites on an expensive Carr trade. Otherwise he hits the market. Signing Garoppolo is an upgrade for some teams and a lateral move for others.
These four veteran quarterbacks, even if they are open to joining the Commanders, are likely too expensive for a budget-minded Washington team facing a hefty price tag to sign free-agent defensive tackle Daron Payne keep. They would become instant starters with Washington, starting against the idea of Howell.
Then there’s Brissett, who had a solid season for the Browns in place of the suspended Watson. He also worked with new Carolina head coach Frank Reich in Indianapolis and would fill a bridge QB role should the Panthers draft a quarterback.
As for the incoming prospects, we ignore trades and possible evaluation shifts upfront by ranking Young (2), Stroud (4), Levis (5) and Richardson (9) in order based on The Athletic’s rankings.
Be prepared. The names on this list will continue the outdated approach of the past two years. However, assuming the Commanders give Howell a solid start, one difference is that these veterans won’t show up with the QB1 job locked up. There are modest upgrades over last season’s Carson Wentz-Heinicke combination on this list.
Free agents: Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton, Sam Darnold, Taylor Heinicke, Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield, Gardner Minshew, PJ Walker, Mike White, Jameis Winston
Possible Available: Marcus Mariota, Matt Ryan
This path without Garoppolo and Brissett shines a light on Dalton. He might not escape New Orleans after finishing the season ranked ninth in QB rating while throwing 18 touchdown passes with nine interceptions in 14 starts. Not a bad return on a one-year, $3 million deal. The “Red Rocket” seems unlikely to end up with a significantly better deal. The Saints may be inclined to keep Dalton, 35, rather than spend more on Garappolo or Carr.
Should Dalton become available, Washington could appeal if Zampese stays on staff or gets the OC position. Zampese was Cincinnati’s QB coach when the Bengals drafted Dalton, and they worked together for seven seasons, including the two with Zampese as OC.
When draft analysts looked for an NFL comparison for Howell, they often landed on Mayfield. The two do not have ideal height for the position, but have strong arms and use their legs. They also have Heinicke’s spunk. Mayfield’s career took a serious nosedive after he burned out in Cleveland. Hopes for a resurgence in Carolina also flared, though the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft showed a spark with the Rams after the Panthers released him.
With two picks after Mayfield in 2018, Darnold has completed just 58.6 percent of his passes this season, but has shown modest improvement. The Panthers finished 4-2 in his six starts. Washington senior personnel manager Marty Hurney signed Bridgewater to a multi-year contract as Carolina’s general manager in 2020.
Besides the Cardinals and Dolphins being potential players in this QB lineup, the Colts could use a seasoned option to go with a rookie. Similar needs may arise elsewhere in the coming weeks. In this league, expect the unexpected, especially at the sport’s most important position. This is why it pays to see the whole board rather than tunnel vision on a team of choice.
(Top photo of Andy Dalton: Peter van den Berg / USA Today)